Christian Newspaper Challenges Malaysia's Government In Court For Right To Use 'Allah'
Authorities in this Muslim-majority nation ordered The Herald weekly in December to stop using "Allah" in its Malay-language section. The paper — the main organ of the Catholic church in Malaysia — was warned it could lose its publishing license if it defied the order.
Lawyers representing The Herald told the Kuala Lumpur High Court Friday that they want to go to trial to reverse the government's order.
"We are saying that the decision should be squashed and there should also be a declaration that ... The Herald is entitled to use the word 'Allah' in its publication," lawyer Porres Royan told reporters after a brief hearing.
The government told The Herald to drop the word "Allah" because it refers to the Muslim God. But the newspaper insists "Allah" has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.
"It is basically a birth right to use the word 'Allah' because it is the only word for God in the Malay language," The Herald's editor, Rev. Lawrence Andrew, told The Associated Press.
The court is expected to hear further arguments next week. Dozens of Christians packed Friday's hearing, including Malaysia's Roman Catholic archbishop.
The Herald — which publishes reports in English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil — is still using the word "Allah," but some fear it could lose its publishing license when it comes up for annual review in October.
The case illustrates growing complaints by religious minorities that their rights have been undermined by government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, Malaysia's official religion.
Ethnic Malays — who are legally required to be Muslim — comprise nearly 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, while ethnic Chinese and Indians — mostly Buddhists, Christians and Hindus — are the main minorities.
Dissatisfaction with court rulings over the right to leave Islam, along with religious issues like the demolition of Hindu temples by state authorities, contributed to the ruling government's poor performance in March elections, when it lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament.
In a separate case, the Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo has also filed a lawsuit to be allowed to use "Allah" after officials last year banned the import of books containing the word. Hearings in that case remain in the preliminary stages.(International Herald Tribune)
***** Would the post-election scenario and reality have an effect on the judges in the above cases? Or can we expect more of the earlier reluctance and reticence to understand and rule on the the issue from a legal standpoint while keeping their personal religious feelings/convictions aside?